Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rice and Mud

Mia: "So Brian, what do you want to do tonight?"
Brian: " The same thing we do every night Mia, try to take over Japan!!!"

The scheme of the day was rice planting. If we could perfectly hone our rice planting skills, we could grow rice in special patterns recognizable from outer space, telling extraterrestrial life that we (Brian and myself) are the rulers of Earth and that they should pay tribute to us. Alas, as we realized that the typical rice paddy in Japan is only as big as a living room and would be difficult to see from outer space, we decided to just have fun squishing around in the mud instead.

And we did.

Sunday we took the short 20 minute drive to Tokuji, a nearby town, using the Chugoku expressway. Japanese highways are notoriously well maintained, but hideously expensive. We were misinformed that the drive from Yamaguchi to Tokuji (only one exit) was free, so we entered the highway at normal merging speed and flew down the nearly empty lanes. Upon arriving in Tokuji however, we were greeted by a toll attendant who kindly asked us for our ticket. "What ticket??" Long story short, we apparently flew right past the Yamaguchi toll attendant and never picked up a ticket to show where we had entered the highway, thus preventing them from knowing how much to charge us. Luckily we had a map that showed where we entered (and we kept saying, "Yamaguchi-shi, Yamaguchi-shi!!!!" and "Gomenasai" or, I'm sorry!!!) and they found us to be trustworthy enough, so they charged us the ¥ 550, or roughly $5.50, and sent us on our way. Soooooo much money!

To the point! We planted rice in a little paddy off the side of a very small mountainous road in a part of town 20 minutes from the nearest store. A field of mud is flooded with about a foot of water and then tilled so the soil is extremely soft. Nearly all of us were barefoot (about 50 people, Japanese and foreigners) and wearing raincoats because it was raining cats and dogs AND lizards. It was quite the shower. Lines had already been drawn into the mud for us to follow, and many of us took two lines each. We were instructed to take a block of rice seedlings, pinch off 2-5 at a time, and plant them one chopstick length apart. They even gave us bamboo hashi (chopsticks) to measure!

After getting used to our feet sinking pretty far into the mud and ruining our lines, we eventually got the hang of it and were moving pretty fast. The type of rice we were planting is called Koshihikari rice, and is known as some of the finest sushi rice in the world. I hope we eventually get to eat it too!

We found this cute little red-bellied salamander checking out our rice planting skills and decided to give him a bird's eye view.

Planting was from 9-10:30, and by the time we were finished, we were famished. Luckily, we finished a little earlier than everyone else (our paddy was a bit shorter), so we washed up and were promptly sent to the kitchen to help prepare lunch. We learned how to form little rice balls, onigiri, decorated with a single umeboshi, or pickled plum. These are known as Land of the Rising Sun onigiri because the red sphere on white rice looks like the Japanese flag. I'm not sure what went into the rice, but these older Japanese women simply instructed us to dunk our hands in a bowl of cold water, then plopped an extremely hot lump of rice in our hands and made the motions of how to form them into pretty little rounded triangles. Took about 3 before I could do it right.

The rest of lunch consisted of sweet bean mochi, or glutinous rice balls, steamed in leaves, several types of pickled vegetables, and tea. Gotta love Japanese lunches.

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